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Bulls East playoff road gets tougher with Cavs trading for Mitchell, Nets retaining Durant

the East is a bloodbath

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this summer, it looked like the Nets were about to blow up and Donovan Mitchell was going to the Knicks. Instead, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be back with the Nets and Donovan Mitchell is going to the ... Cavaliers.

After talks between the Knicks and Jazz hit an impasse again with the RJ Barrett extension earlier this week, the Cavs swooped back in the Mitchell sweepstakes and won them. Cleveland is sending three unprotected first-round picks, two pick swaps, Collin Sexton (sign-and-trade), old friend Lauri Markkanen and 2022 lottery pick Ochai Agbaji to Utah for the All-Star guard.

While that’s quite a bit for Mitchell, the Cavs get one of the best scorers in the NBA without giving up one of their truly prime young players (Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen). They still have Kevin Love, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro and will get Ricky Rubio back at some point from his torn ACL. This is a really talented team with a nice blend of young talent and veterans, so they’re going to be a problem for the Bulls for the foreseeable future.

Durant and Irving returning to the Nets theoretically should mean a powerhouse in Brooklyn, though there are obviously plenty of questions about that whole situation. Still, that’s one of the most talented teams in the East, even with the blowup potential.

The Knicks missing out on Mitchell is a blow for them, and the Bulls are better than them on paper. But in an Eastern Conference that was much better last season than recent years, just where do the Bulls stand after they mostly stood pat while other teams made big moves across the league?

The Cavs and Hawks both cashed in a bunch of assets on big trades to improve their backcourts. The Nets are loaded with talent. The defending East champion Celtics traded for Malcolm Brogdon while barely giving up anything. The Sixers added several key rotation players. The Bucks are the Bucks, and the Heat should be very good again even though they made no upgrades and lost P.J. Tucker to Philly. The Raptors will be feisty. It’s going to be a bloodbath as teams jockey for playoff positioning.

With all the action across the NBA this summer, the Bulls are now projected as the ninth-best team in the East by DraftKings with 43.5 projected wins. The Cavs jumped from below the Bulls at No. 9 up to No. 6 with 46.5 projected wins.

I think the Bulls can easily beat these projections if things go right, but there are so many question marks. Will Lonzo Ball be healthy to start this season and throughout? Will Patrick Williams and other young players make a leap? Will DeMar DeRozan be dominant again? That’s just a start.

This all makes the Bulls’ lack of meaningful activity since last offseason all the more frustrating. Let’s hope the bet on continuity, health and internal development works out, because otherwise, they could find themselves right back where they were when this rebuild first began.